China is extremely unhappy with the litigation brought by the US against China over the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report in China’s official media Global Times yesterday. The Chinese government is considering punitive countermeasures against, amongst others, US Congressmen, the state of Missouri, as well as US individuals, entities and state officials who have proposed "anti-China" bills.
The report quoted an academic saying, “We can't just strike back symbolically, but should impose countermeasures that can make them feel the pain.”
Analysts say that the move by China is to warn the US not to seize on the pandemic to start suing China and seeking compensation. This warning might have some effect on entities and individuals with closer dealings with China, but many of those who advocate suing China — such as Republican senators Josh David Hawley and Tom Cotton — have little contact with China, so its punitive measures would have little impact on them.
At the same time, unless the US takes the lead in imposing sanctions on China’s politicians, China probably will not make the first move in expanding the punitive measures to senior US officials — such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been harshly critical of China — for fear of worsening of China-US relations.
“Abuse of litigation” by US congressmen and officials
The Global Times report claimed that some US Congress members and state officials have recently seized on the coronavirus pandemic to make things difficult for China, and criticised this as “abuse of litigation”. On 14 April, senator Hawley proposed the Justice for Victims of Coronavirus Act in the Senate, allowing US citizens to file private lawsuits against China. Two days later, Cotton proposed a bill to strip China of its sovereign immunity.
Currently, at least 17 Republican state attorneys general have called on Congress to investigate the Chinese government’s role in the Covid-19 pandemic.
China has suspended beef imports from four large Australian slaughterhouses, citing inspection and quarantine violations, with a possible suspension of barley imports.
The Global Times quoted analysts saying that China has repeatedly stressed that cooperation between China and the US is mutually beneficial, but “we cannot back down again and again and tolerate some people who have repeatedly undermined China-US relations.”
While there is nothing concrete yet on what China’s punitive measures will be against the US entities and individuals that have sued China, it has started taking action against Australia, which called for an independent inquiry on China. In response, China has suspended beef imports from four large Australian slaughterhouses, citing inspection and quarantine violations, with a possible suspension of barley imports.
Reuters reported on 13 May that Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said he had requested a call with Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, but had not received a reply. He added that Australia sought a respectful relationship with China, but it would not change its policy position due to “economic coercion”, and would continue to support an international inquiry into the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, China has also started to tighten control over exports of coronavirus supplies. China’s Ministry of Commerce announced on its website on 12 May that exports of medical supplies including test kits, medical face masks, medical gowns, ventilators, ultraviolet thermometers, and non-medical face masks, through procurement in the markets would be suspended.
The website said temporarily suspending market procurement trade was to strengthen quality supervision of medical product exports, and would not affect exports of medical supplies through other commercial trading channels.
Some analysts feel this regulation will allow the Chinese government to exert more control over the free trade of medical supplies, and this might be one way for China to get back at countries that are seeking accountability and compensation.
Related: Missouri sues, but should China be held accountable for the global spread of Covid-19? | China faces avalanche of calls for coronavirus compensation | Blame game can lead to showdown between China and the US